Short People Debunk New Study on Height

Short people are carded, teased, dateless, discounted, and some say, earn less.

August 17, 2009, 4:18 PM

Aug. 18, 2009— -- What Jeff remembers most about being short throughout school was the constant bullying and name-calling. In gym class, he was always the last one picked for the team.

Even as a 5-foot, 4-inch adult, the Ohio 40-year-old did not want his name used and still feels "awkward" in social situations.

"I feel embarrassed shopping for clothes, as I have to get my pants in the teen and young sections," he told "I still get carded for beer and cigarettes."

"The worst thing about being short is there is nothing I can do about it," said Jeff. "Fat people can diet and exercise, skinny people can eat and lift weights, ugly people can have plastic surgery. Being short is more akin to being disabled."

But a new University of Michigan study published this week in the journal Pediatrics suggests short people are not victimized at any higher rate than their taller peers -- at least not in the sixth grade, the period covered by the researchers.

Contradicting earlier studies, the study of 712 boys and girls of all heights found these children do just as well socially when it comes to "exclusion, social support, popularity, victimization, depressive symptoms, optimism or behavioral problems."

"I wish that were true," said Matt Campisi, chairman of the New York City-based National Organization of Short Statured Adults (NOSSA), who is 5 feet, 4 inches. "Most of the members would love that to be the reality, but unfortunately the feedback we receive from parents is the complete opposite."

And for scores of short people like Jeff who responded to an inquiry, that study just doesn't measure up to their reality.

Growing up, those who are short face more than bad nicknames. Girls are treated like children in the work place and hardly taken seriously. Boys face snickers and empty dance cards.

And for many, those indignities follow them from childhood well into adulthood, as some Australian studies show they earn less than their taller co-workers.

The average American adult male is 5 feet, 9-1/2 inches tall and the average woman is 5 feet, 4 inches, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

NOSSA considers heights of 5 feet, 3 inches for men and 4 feet, 11 inches for women as short stature, based on guidelines from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.

Campisi said his group receives numerous calls and letters from parents that their children are often targets of schoolyard bullying. Some are so distressed that they consider human growth hormones, which are both expensive and risky, to treat otherwise healthy children.

From adult men, the number one complaint about being short is finding a romantic partner. They say even short girls won't date them.

For women, it's the reaction to their height in the workplace.

"Women are looking for tall, dark and handsome," he told "When they are short, they are treated like they are children, getting patted on the head and dismissed."

Other experts were dubious about the study, especially because sixth graders are still growing and have an enormous variety in height.

"It is also likely that these kids are not very astute in understanding how others see them," said Judith A. Myers-Walls, associate professor of child development and family studies at Purdue University.

"As they get older in their teens they will get better at identifying what other people see as an asset or liability in their appearances."

But for Jeff, who is now married and successful as an electronics technician, memories of name-calling linger. In seventh grade, his "steady" of two years "dumped" him.

"Her excuse was she wanted a taller boyfriend," said Jeff, whose self-esteem is still wobbly. "She had grown taller over that time period, taller than me, that is."

Short Jokes Even in Adulthood

Even today as he coaches an under-12 team baseball team, most of the kids are taller. "I hear short jokes from the kids and I hear it from their parents," he said.

Steve Cole, a retired CEO from Chicago, had a similar experience. He was only 4 feet, 11 inches in the sixth grade.

"All my friends were very athletic and bigger than me," Cole, now 59, told "I was very insecure about my masculinity and confidence around girls. Tall meant cool and cool meant masculine."

But like many short men, Cole capitalized on his personality. "I was semi-smart and funny," he said.

His confidence soared in boarding school when he succeeded at lacrosse and soccer. "I could knock big guys on their fannies in those sports with speed and guile, guts and hustle," said Cole, who eventually grew to 5 feet, 6 inches.

"My Dad used to tell me with a ribald intention that it's not the size of the wand but the magic of the performer which translates as one gains personal confidence into the whole tall-short subject," he said.

Being short can be just as hard on girls.

Jessica, a teacher from New Jersey who did not want to give her last name, is 5 feet "on a good day."

"I get walked into, elbowed in the face and have had drinks spilled on me because people trip over me," she told "I can't hear conversations in noisy environments because they are so far above me and I usually have to talk loudly to be heard."

At 24, she is always carded at a bar and for R-rated movies, "I've even been asked, 'Where are your parents?'" she said.

Julie Idzikowski of Hartford, Wisc., said she "endured the 'shorty' ridicule for years, even into adulthood."

At 51 and 4 feet, 8 inches, she must alter the clothes she buys, stand on her tip toes to kiss her 5-foot, 11-inch husband and stretch to reach the car gas pedals. Her feet rarely touch the ground in any seat, leading to a "numbing sensation."

Men tap her on the head and ask, "How tall are you?" or "How's the weather down there?" On trips to the grocery store children have commented, "Mommy, look at that little lady," or "What is wrong with her?"

But Idzikowski took the name-calling in stride and, as the study suggests, eventually thrived in a successful career as a hospital fund raiser.

Rachel, a 24-year-old social worker from New York City who did not want her last name used, said she, too, overcame her 4-feet, 10-inch stature.

She even wrote her successful college essay on the topic after working as an intern in London with children who were dying from gigantism.

"I worked with kids who were 13 feet, 7 inches and at 16, I was only 4 feet, 7 inches," she said. "It was incredible to see how different our lives were."

"It's a lot harder being a short man than a short girl, according to Rachel, who has a girlfriend who refuses to date men shorter than her 5-foot 5-inch frame.

Short men and women have learned to be "tough," according to Ellen Frankel, who at 4 feet, 8 inches climbed the first 15,000 feet of Mt. Everest. But she also was told by her rabbi she was too short to follow his footsteps.

"Everybody has challenges when they differ in any way from the norm," said Frankel, author of "Beyond Measure: A Memoir About Short Stature and Inner Growth."

"When someone discriminates against race or religion, we don't ask them to change their skin color or religion. We have to understand that people come in all shapes and sizes and not change the person's physical stature but the attitudes and behaviors that lead to discrimination."

Civil rights advocates are already addressing the issue. In 1979, Michigan banned discrimination on the basis of height or weight and Massachusetts is now considering the same.

A 2003 University of Florida and University of North Carolina study found that short people are paid less than their taller peers: Each inch in height amounted to about $789 more a year in pay.

Still some don't need studies or legislation to embrace the short of stature.

Sara Rosenbaum was ecstatic about her boyfriend of four years -- all 5 feet 4 inches of him. After they broke up amicably, she wrote him a letter of recommendation for future dating.

"What a fantastic dude," said the Boston 31-year-old who likes her men "on the short end."

"They are right there. You don't have to reach up and stand on a phone book. I can lean right over and the lips are right there, lined up."

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